Parkway project will be job bonanza

Economic impact to be felt right away

By Chris Vander Doelen, The Windsor Star

Every construction company for 100 kilometres has been holding their collective breaths waiting for this moment: the kickoff to the biggest stimulus project of them all, the job that’s going to put everybody in the industry back to work all at once.

Without fanfare, construction of the $1.6-billion Windsor Essex Parkway quietly began this week when utility crews started moving lines and demolition crews moved in to begin bulldozing 181 buildings still in the way of the last missing link in Highway 401 from Quebec to the U.S. Border.

Among the buildings to come down soon will be a gas station and other buildings at the corner of Howard Avenue and Highway 3. Job one is making room for the official ribbon-cutting ceremony, expected within weeks.

The parkway is the project “everybody’s trying to get a piece of,” says Jim Lyons, executive director of the Windsor Heavy Construction Association.

“As this project gears up there will be huge demand for labour.”

Anticipating the crunch, the City of Windsor has deliberately cleared its books of all municipal construction projects for the next few months, Lyons says.

There will be no roads, sewers or other civic projects tendered.

City planners realized every contractor in the region will be vying for some of the 60 to 80 sub-contract packages that will be put out to tender for the massive job, one of the biggest in Canada this year.

“It’s one of the largest infrastructure projects underway in the country – certainly in the top 10 for size and scope,” says Garfield Dales, the most senior provincial bureaucrat overseeing the parkway project.

“All we’ve been hearing for months now is, ‘when are shovels going to be in the ground? When does construction start?” Dales said at a recent open house for the project. “There is a real sense of people wanting to see this project start.”

The economic impact of the project on the region will be huge, and it will be immediate, Dales added this week by e-mail. “It’s a significant economic opportunity for local workers, suppliers and contractors.”

By the end of this year, Windsor is expected to have the fastgrowing metropolitan economy in the country, Dales said, quoting a prediction made earlier this year by the Conference Board of Canada.

While GDP (Gross Domestic Product”) growth for the region was 3.5 per cent last year, it is expected to be 3.9 per cent this year, receiving a “big boost when the $1.6-billion Windsor-Essex Parkway begins later this year.”

How big? “Well, do the math,” Lyons says. “One-point-six billion, divided by 80. Those are big packages for everybody to bid on,” he says of his members, some of whom have been dying for work in recent years.

About 20 per cent of work has already been awarded, according to Cindy Prince, communications director for Parkway Infrastructure Contractors, (PIC), the consortium building the project.

Among the local companies already doing work are Facca Inc., which two years ago started building the two lonely overpasses which have been sitting forlornly in the middle of a field near Howard Avenue since last fall.

Amico Infrastructures of Windsor has been awarded nearly 10 per cent of the overall work, in excavation and asphalt; demolition experts Jones Group Inc. of Windsor will be knocking down most of the homes and other remaining structures. In fact the job is bigger than the Jones group can handle alone – so they’ve subcontracted competitors Gagnon Demolition and Salvage, also of Windsor, to help. “They’re going like bandits right now,” Lyons said of the two.

This week Lepara Infrastructures Inc. started pulling up old parking lots and driveways along the route. Local landscapers Siefker Inc. have been hired for property maintenance; Black and MacDonald have been hired for much of the vast electrical work to be done on the site.

Hundreds of other contractors are in the process of filling out forms online to pre-qualify for the rest of the contracts. Each has to present proof of its financial wherewithal before they will even be considered.

About 400 new jobs have already been created by the parkway, Prince estimates, the first of about 3,500 people who will eventually have a hand in the project, working 12,000 jobyears between them.

At least 38 people employed by PIC or the Windsor Essex Mobility Group have bought homes or leased apartments in the area; hundreds more are expected to follow as hiring begins for such specialties as bridge design.

Area hotels and eateries are expected to be busier as out-of-town consultants from sound attenuation experts to pump salesmen start flooding in: the entire excavation will be designed to stay dry even through a 100-year storm.

As recently as 2007, building a flat, six-lane concrete 400 series highway through empty farmland cost about $19 million per kilometre to build, according to estimates prepared by the Ontario government – or more than $20 million today, given inflation in fuel costs alone.

The cost of building the below-grade Windsor-Essex Parkway, by comparison, will be about $133 million per km, or more than six times the cost of a surface road.

And that, Dales says, is the main reason the parkway will be by far the most expensive highway project in Ontario history and one of the most expensive ever built in Canada.

It won’t be finished until September 2014, and along the way area residents can expect some major disruptions to their commuting routines, Lyons warns.

“There are going to be some inconveniences,” Prince agreed. “There always are during construction.” Chief among them will be the hammering associated with driving 5,600 steel pilings down to bedrock to support the 11 bridges and 11 tunnels that are the most complex components of the project.

Each structure will require three to six weeks of pile driving, all of which will be done during daylight hours. “We’ll try not to make that a long steady month” of pile driving, Pierce says. Instead the hammering will be staggered, in some cases spaced it out over as much as six months per structure.

For construction geeks, Lyons advises checking out the parkway’s official website at http://www.weparkway.ca, paying careful attention to the video flyovers.

“They’re great – they you give you a helicopter view,” Lyons said Thursday. “You can see exactly all the changes their making to the existing landscape – and it’s incredible.”

And don’t expect to see the project ramp up slowly, he said. “I’m told they plan to hit it at all areas, all the time,” he says of the 12-km-long project. “They don’t have time to stage it – they’re doing it all at once.”